Avianca pilots in Colombia agree to lift strike and return to work

Protest had been ruled illegal by tribunal
||Last Updated: 11/24/2017
Labour strike
A passenger looks at aircrafts of Colombian airlines Avianca as the airline's flights are cancelled due to a pilots strike, at El Dorado airport in Bogota, on Sept. 26. REUTERS/Jaime Saldarriaga

BOGOTA (Reuters) — The majority of Colombian airline Avianca's local pilots voted to lift a strike and said on Friday they would return to work after 51 days with no resolution in their dispute over wages and benefits.

Pilots from the Colombian Association of Civil Aviators, or ACDAC, began a walkout on Sept. 20 demanding increased salary and benefits they said would have put them on par with the airline's pilots in other countries.

After weeks of stalemate between the union and Colombia's flagship carrier, the union met for much of Thursday to discuss and vote on a proposal put forward by the nation's ombudsman, Carlos Alfonso Negret, to lift the strike.

They agreed late on Thursday to return to work in 72 hours, according to ACDAC.

"ACDAC and the unionized civilian aviators, as a result of the intervention by the ombudsman, have decided to suspend the strike, resume air operations 72 hours after signing this document and thus normalize their work activities," said the agreement, signed by the pilots' union.

More than 700 of the company's 1,300 Colombian pilots voted to strike back in September — forcing Avianca Holdings SA to ground hundreds of flights — causing headaches for hundreds of thousands of passengers who were forced onto later flights or different airlines.

Avianca was not immediately available to comment.

The protest had been ruled illegal by a Colombian tribunal as it interfered with essential public transport, but the two sides failed to reach a solution during negotiations.

In an effort to mitigate the effect of the cancellations, the civil aviation authority allowed Avianca to bring in foreign pilots to fill in on some routes.

Avianca also said the strike was illegal and called the pilots' demands unreasonable. Pilots wanted reduced working hours and for Avianca to pay 70 per cent of their monthly taxes, among other things.

Avianca, a member of the Star Alliance and one of the leading airlines in Latin America, carried 29.5 million passengers in 2016. It has more than 21,000 employees and serves 105 destinations in 28 countries in the Americas and Europe.

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